Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.
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Post by kayy » Mon Feb 01, 2010 5:36 pm

In various psychology books, I've come across the idea of "flow", described by the psychologist who originally coined the term,Csíkszentmihályi, as:
"completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task."
I've experienced this myself, whilst singing in the choir I go to, a few times when I used to play the clarinet in an orchestra, and very often when I'm studying and learning a new language, which is something I love to do. I get totally immersed in the pronunciation or the grammar or whatever and suddenly two hours have gone by and I've been totally lost in the moment.

Has anyone else experience this?

Is it relevant to Buddhism, do you think?

It seems to me to have some uncanny parallels with meditative states.

I'd love to hear your opinions / experiences.


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Re: Flow

Post by kayy » Mon Feb 01, 2010 5:38 pm

whoops, forgot to post links to some websites describing it in more detail.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_%28psychology%29" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles ... nding-flow" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

http://www.educationreformbooks.net/flow.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: Flow

Post by AdvaitaJ » Tue Feb 02, 2010 12:55 am


The "flow" as described is very similar to the effects achieved from applied concentration. With strong concentration, everyday concerns naturally fall away and the mind "defaults" to a natural state of happiness and contentment. This is one of the basic factors of samadhi-oriented meditation styles. (I'm not very knowledgeable about the names of the specific styles, so perhaps someone else will jump in here.)

Regards: AdvaitaJ
The birds have vanished down the sky. Now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.
Li Bai

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Re: Flow

Post by zavk » Wed Feb 03, 2010 12:03 am

Hi Katy

From the looks of it, there are some parallels between flow and the notion of mindfulness.

However, if there's a difference between them, I would say that flow is primarily concerned with the Conditioned while mindfulness is primarily concerned with the Unconditioned.

This is not to say that mindfulness doesn't help us to perform better at various tasks. But it is not just about that. What is taught in the Eightfold Path is 'Right Mindfulness'. Right mindfulness is not just about being immersed in the moment nor is it about experiencing rapture while performing various tasks (but these things can happen with mindfulness). Right mindfulness is, rather, about recognising the Three Characteristics of dukkha, anicca, anatta. Insight into these characteristics is said to bring us release from the Conditioned to the Unconditioned.

As far as I'm aware, the concept of flow doesn't posit this possibility. This is not to say that it is bad or deficient; it just operates on a different register which happens to overlap with that of mindfulness.

EDIT: Actually, I shouldn't have said that flow 'happens to' overlap with mindfulness. From what I understand, Csíkszentmihályi had some knowledge of the teachings about awareness in Buddhism and other religions. So I don't think the overlap between mindfulness and flow is a coincidence. It reflects a conscious attempt to apply 'religious' concepts in a 'secular' setting--which has its merits, I suppose.
With metta,

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Re: Flow

Post by Kim OHara » Wed Feb 03, 2010 4:51 am

Hello, Katy and others,
I regularly experience states of mind that fit the Wikipedia definition of 'flow' but I'm not sure that I find the concept particularly useful. Csíkszentmihályi seems to have grabbed a lot of loosely related states of mind and stuffed them all into one bag with a new label. But the differences between the mental states are significant, and labelling them all the same way throws away information about each of them.


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